LAKE HAVASU CITY – Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge will be closed to boaters and visitors next week as the United States Department of Agriculture returns to put the region’s feral swine out to pasture.
The USDA last February began its Feral Swine Eradication Plan alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to eliminate feral swine at Lake Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The swine are an invasive species, according to USDA reports, and are a threat to riparian and indigenous wildlife throughout the refuge.
Last year’s operation lasted less than four days, during which aerial gunners flew over the refuge in helicopters to kill feral swine from above. According to USDA data, about 70 feral hogs were killed, at an expense of about $25,000. The operation was deemed a success.
Lake Havasu City residents last year admonished the government’s expense in the matter, with suggestions that the area be opened to hunters who could eradicate the region’s feral swine from the ground. Refuge Manager Richard Meyers explained why such a plan would be ineffective.
“From a legal standpoint, hunting pigs is a citable offense,” Meyers said. “They are not a listed species (for hunting) under federal statutes. But we’re also not trying to create a hog-hunting community here that doesn’t exist. I’ve hunted hogs myself in other states – it’s not an easy task. They are hard to see, hard to find, and especially hard to give chase to.”
According to Meyers, the region’s feral hogs prefer areas inaccessible to humans, foraging in deep brush near the edge of the Colorado River. Agents from the Department of Agriculture eliminate feral swine from airborne helicopters because it’s one of the few effective ways to reach them.
Feral hogs elsewhere may be attracted by bait, and in Meyers’ experience, effective baits have included papaya, stale donuts and corn. Havasu’s swine, however, don’t appear to be attracted to human bait of any kind.
According to a release from the Fish and Wildlife Service, swine aren’t just a danger to indigenous wildlife at the refuge, but can transmit diseases to humans when they encroach on agricultural lands or through water contamination.
Feral hogs breed quickly, and a single female can produce two litters of offspring per year. According to Fish and Wildlife officials, the swine’s numbers may have resurged after last year’s culling, and it could take years before the refuge is swine-free. The culling is part of a national priority to eliminate or reduce the risks of feral swine to agriculture, natural resources, property and health, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We will be bringing in additional law enforcement this year,” Meyers said. “Officers will hold the line and prevent people from entering the refuge while the helicopter is flying. We also have people in boats on the river, with help from the Sheriff’s Office.”
The entirety of the refuge will be closed to area boaters and visitors for the purpose of public safety from Feb. 6 through Feb. 16, but the closure could end sooner than that, according to Meyers.
Last year’s culling ended in 3.5 days, and the refuge was reopened ahead of schedule. Meyers hopes this year’s culling will end just as quickly, and the public will be informed if and when the refuge reopens before Feb. 16.